Review: Bring your beater car into the 21st century with Magellan’s SmartGPS
As more and more smart cars come online, perfectly good older cars start to look…old. You can bring some of that connected-car experience to your beloved beater with Magellan’s new SmartGPS. It takes a different approach to in-vehicle navigation, combining a SmartGPS tablet with a free app and cloud synchronization to bring you all sorts of useful data while you’re driving.
An app and a mini tablet
The SmartGPS experience consists of a couple different parts, but the SmartGPS itself is an actual device. The $250 SmartGPS is a small tablet with a hard plastic backing and a 5-inch capacitive touchscreen. It runs on a 1GHz TI processor and has 4GB of built-in memory along with a microSD card slot for expansion. The tablet has a speaker output jack (for plugging directly into your car’s audio system, though it’s also got a built-in speaker), an AV output (for connecting to a Magellan wireless back-up camera), and a microUSB port for charging. The device comes with a super-suction windshield/dashboard dock, a car charger, and a regular wall charger.
The SmartGPS device connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth (through your iPhone or Android device) to display weather, gas prices, Yelp reviews, Foursquare info, and traffic and safety alerts on small, constantly-updating tiles. It uses Wi-Fi connections to download heavy data, such as new Yelp and Foursquare reviews, and it uses your phone’s Bluetooth connection to download minor updates (so it can connect location data with your actual location, I assume). Oh, and it also syncs addresses and location-relevant content across the device, the app, and the cloud.
Navigation includes turn-by-turn directions
At first glance, the SmartGPS looks pretty basic. On the left side of the screen, there’s a map with a big blue arrow that marks your position, and on the right side, there are four tiles, each displaying different types of information. The map side is pretty run-of-the-mill: You can zoom in and out using on-screen buttons, you can tap and drag to move the map, and you can display the map in 3D, 2D, or 2D oriented to your direction. The SmartGPS offers turn-by-turn directions with landmark recognition, which is useful if you’re in an area that you don’t know very well. For example, instead of saying “turn right on Moorpark,” the SmartGPS will say, “turn right by the Shell gas station on Moorpark.” This feature can be toggled on and off.
The tiles on the right side are what make the SmartGPS stand out. These tiles—and there are eight of them, though you can use a little dial at the top of the screen to display four of them with the map, all of them without the map, or none of them with a full map—display different types of information relevant to your location. There are safety and traffic alerts (such as red light camera alerts), courtesy of Magellan’s subscription Phantom Alerts feature, weather and fuel prices, and there’s even social network integration.
Yelp and Foursquare tips at the ready
One tile displays Yelp-reviewed businesses in your vicinity, while another displays Foursquare check-ins. These tiles show the location of the business (you can tap on a tile to make it bigger, and to have the SmartGPS guide you to that business), as well as its Yelp rating or Foursquare reviews and special offers. For example, a restaurant near me offers a free cup of clam chowder for its Foursquare mayor, while a massage parlor is offering a $50 off coupon for Yelp users. So this is a quick way to learn about deals near you.
The tiles are sort of like Windows Phone’s Live tiles, in that they’re constantly flipping through different places. They’re not actually updating; the SmartGPS downloads most of its data when it’s connected to a Wi-Fi network. If you leave them alone, you’ll see the Yelp and Foursquare tiles rifle through the different businesses near you. You can also manually flip the tiles with your finger, if you want to find a certain business or look through gas prices.
Making any car a connected car
The question you’re probably asking is…why do you need a standalone device for this kind of data and information when you’ve got your smartphone? And the answer is, you don’t, assuming your state allows you to use your phone while driving. Magellan is updating its $60 RoadMate app to include these smart flipping tiles. The current RoadMate app features GPS navigation, traffic information, safety alerts (if you purchase them), and turn-by-turn navigation. But the updated app will include integrated Yelp and Foursquare info and gas prices in constantly-updating tiles that you can flip through, so you can experience the SmartGPS on your smartphone.
Magellan’s SmartGPS is a neat product for people who are looking for a connected-car experience in their not-so-cutting-edge vehicle. It downloads all of its major data over Wi-Fi, so you don’t have to worry about its sucking away your phone’s data, though it does connect to your phone via Bluetooth to get minor updates. It also works as a hands-free calling device, and can connect to a Magellan wireless back-up camera. Plus, the cloud synchronization is useful: Just look up an address on your phone or on Magellan’s web portal, and you can push directions directly to your SmartGPS, so you’re ready to go when you get in the car. It's one of the best options you have for bringing your 1998 beater into the 21st century.